The online advertising industry is full of complexity, opacity and waste; it’s high time brands and agencies focused on helping build transparent and responsible media frameworks, says Compliant’s Jamie Barnard, CEO and co-founder, Compliant.

The online advertising industry was never built with privacy in mind. It was designed to address technical challenges like targeting, personalization, attribution, and cross-media measurement. As a consequence, we’re having to retrofit compliance in a highly complex environment. To make matters worse, the martech stack is like a Jenga tower – each brick solving a different problem and introduced by individuals from different functions, where each new integration is expected to work with tools, systems, and architectures already in place. It’s difficult to drive the radical change required because it’s rare for one person to have authority to shape the entire stack, and most people are terrified of removing bricks for fear of the whole tower toppling down.

With the proliferation of data protection laws around the world and the heavy sanctions available to data protection authorities, privacy has become the single biggest financial and reputational threat to advertisers, agencies, and publishers in 2024. According to IBM and The Ponemon Institute, the average cost of a data breach in the US is now $9.48m – and that doesn’t include the fine.

Despite this risk, there is still a significant gap between what consumers expect, what the law demands and what actually happens as it relates to open web media buying.

The industry weighs in

The ANA’s recent Programmatic Report identified that only one-third of every programmatic dollar reaches end-users and that $22bn is lost in media efficiency. It should come as no surprise that the ANA concluded that the digital supply chain is filled with waste, and that impression price doesn’t correlate with quality.

This is leaving a tremendous opportunity for advertisers to take immediate action and use compliance data to optimize media investment. By curating more compliant media from trusted publishers, marketers can reduce risk and improve compliance without compromising media performance; in many cases, the same actions will deliver efficiency gains and address data compliance risks. By buying higher-quality inventory and running data compliance metrics on top of other measurement streams, advertisers and media buyers can get deeper insights and improved transparency.

Additionally, Adalytics recently exposed that, from a privacy standpoint, many companies are living on borrowed time as it found the Google Search Partners (GSP) program included brand-unsafe ad inventory littered across inappropriate sites, despite generating over $10bn annually.

Sustainability measurement in advertising: the Scope3 approach

Scope3 continues to lead the decarbonization of media and advertising through carbon emissions measurement. Recently, the sustainability platform announced the addition of digital out-of-home to its emissions measurement.

This type of monumental development – coupled with statistics like eight in ten Americans being concerned about how companies use their data – emphasizes that the advertising industry must focus on building a responsible media framework that is backed by transparency. The most successful way to achieve transparency, and get both choice and control, is to measure.

If brands and agencies are courageous enough to raise their hand and challenge those that engineer complexity by design, our digital society will be the better for it. It is time for brands to engage with companies like Adalytics, which uses forensic investigation to shine a light on dark practices. This effort, combined with the need for brands to adopt new brand integrity metrics like data compliance alongside traditional metrics like viewability, are key factors to success. A focus on creating a transparent and responsible media framework will set up publishers, advertisers, and media buyers for success, a crucial factor for both the climate and privacy crisis.

Goals for 2024: industry-wide transparency and accountability

The new year will be a critical time if transparency and accountability are to take the spotlight in online advertising and media buying practices. Goliath tech companies are already under increasing threats from forensic adtech startups intent on exposing dark arts and dominance. It is our responsibility to provide brands with a positive way out of the maze and into responsible media frameworks.

At the same time, major disclosure of compliance failures, bid values in programmatic auctions, new brand safety issues, and verification gaps, will further force transparency on an opaque market, thus giving advertisers leverage to level out the information asymmetry and demand more control. We can expect to see metadata from forensic audits establish new industry standards, influencing everything from channel planning and media optimization to brand integrity and verification.

In 2024, new adtech solutions will finally start tackling problems created by outdated adtech. True change can happen only when new solutions are created simply. With the addition of new, non-complicated adtech solutions in the market, we will drive the change we wish to see. Our approach to the digital supply chain should be no different than that of a physical supply chain: accountability follows transparency and the time to take action is now.